NASHVILLE - A new Tennessee law that holds public officials more accountable for crimes committed related to their government position or duties is constitutional, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says in a new legal opinion.
Public Chapter 766, passed by the Legislature earlier this year, states that elected or appointed officials are not eligible for pre-trial diversion for offenses committed in their official capacity or duties of office.
In the opinion, requested by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, Cooper says that under the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions, pretrial and judicial diversion would be considered "truly extraordinary relief" and are not "fundamental rights."
Nor would equal protection provisions in the state and U.S Constitutions apply, Cooper wrote.
"A state may treat elected or appointed public officials differently from the general public by making them ineligible for pretrial or judicial diversion, without running afoul of federal or Tennessee constitutional protections," Cooper wrote.
The law affects the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Pretrial and judicial diversion is alternative to a conviction available for any number of first-time, nonviolent felony offenders and misdemeanants. It affords offenders an opportunity to keep their crimes off the books if they comply with certain requirements.
The legislation was brought in the wake of a Knox County judge who was given pretrial diversion after he was charged with official misconduct related to the purchase of drugs from a probationer in his court.
Critics were unhappy the judge's deal allowed him to get a state pension.